Share This Page

Gene variant appears to raise risk for Alzheimer's disease

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:16 p.m.

Scientists have identified a new gene variant that seems to strongly raise the risk for Alzheimer's disease, giving a fresh target for research into treatments for the mind-robbing disorder.

The problem gene is not common — less than 1 percent of people are thought to have it — but it roughly triples the chances of developing Alzheimer's compared to people with the normal version of the gene. It also seems to harm memory and thinking in older people without dementia.

The main reason scientists are excited by the discovery is what this gene does, and how that might reveal what causes Alzheimer's and ways to prevent it. The gene helps the immune system control inflammation in the brain and clear junk such as the sticky deposits that are the hallmark of the disease. Mutations in the gene may impair these tasks, so treatments to restore the gene's function and quell inflammation may help.

“It points us to potential therapeutics in a more precise way than we've seen in the past,” said Dr. William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, which had no role in the research. Years down the road, this discovery will likely be seen as very important, he predicted.

It is described in a study by an international group published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

About 35 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type. In the United States, about 5 million have Alzheimer's. Medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. There is no known cure.

Until now, only one gene — ApoE — has been found to have a big impact on Alzheimer's risk. About 17 percent of the population has at least one copy of the problem version of this gene but nearly half of all people with Alzheimer's do. Other genes that have been tied to the disease raise risk only a little, or cause the less common type of Alzheimer's that develops earlier in life, before age 60.

The new gene, TREM2, has been tied to a couple of other forms of dementia. Researchers led by deCODE Genetics Inc. of Iceland honed in on a version of it they identified through mapping the entire genetic code of more than 2,200 Icelanders.

Further tests on 3,550 Alzheimer's patients and more than 110,000 people without dementia in several countries, including the United States, found that the gene variant was more common in Alzheimer's patients.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.